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decorations for inspiring your creative side

Walking into Toho Shoji (New York), Inc., I truly felt like a kid in a candy store.  Except this time, I was an adult and the sparkling and shining items on the walls were not candy and sweets but accessory decorations.  I was astonished by the sheer number of charms, pendants, chains, necklaces, Swarovski crystals, cloth, clasps and dazzling stones grabbing my attention as I walked through the aisles.  I never knew there were so many choices facing a jewelry or accessory designer. You can spend hours at Toho Shoji designing the perfect accessory to display your individuality and the only limitation would be your own imagination.

I visited Toho Shoji to learn about the Japanese phenomenon called deco, from the word decoration, whose popular and prominent applications are decoden – decorating ones denwa (phone in Japanese) as a follow-up to the forerunner, the hanging charm – and deconails, where painted nails are decorated with crystals and beads, adding a three-dimensional design.  The decoden craze, which has been going strong in Japan since the late 1990s, is making its way to our shores as well since the mobile culture here is increasingly becoming a form of self-expression as well (think choosing applications for your iPhone and customizing ringtones).

Suitable items for deco only require a flat surface.  Popular examples are cellphones, headphones, Nintendo D.S. game systems, iPhones, Christmas tree ornaments, and cigarette lighters (the last two popular among men in Japan).  With imagination, deco can turn just about any flat surface into a work of art.

As a beginner, I was grateful for Toho Shoji’s Ms. Kazue Saito’s guidance in the process. First, I chose my medium – a cellphone. Envisioning a design requires creativity but actually creating it requires skill (and patience, as I learned!)  Then, I chose my decorations.  The options were quite numerous: I could use individual stones, stickers arranged in long strips, or self-adhesive sheets of crystals, set in a grid.  Using the sheet is an easy way to cover a surface in one step but involves trimming the sheet to fit the shape’s dimensions.  Once I chose the type of decoration (red, round crystals) I dabbed a little glue (or, in my case, too much!  “Less is more” here.)  Then I used the tweezers to pick out a crystal and carefully place it on the phone surface.  Repeating these steps twice more with differently-sized crystals, I had my very first decoden design: a bite-sized image of Mickey Mouse. As for the tools, a ruler for taking measurements and for arranging the beads proved to be quite useful.  Also, working with such small shapes, it helped to have a specific tool to lift the desired pieces and place them in the intended spots.  In Japan, there is a specific tool called Magicaltip for this purpose but, for now, deco designers here can use a cuticle pusher with beeswax on the tip or tweezers to easily pick up the sparkling stones.

In addition to decoden opportunities, Toho Shoji holds classes where students – adults and children – can make necklaces, charms, bracelets and complete an entire piece in only one session. Brides, take note:  you can also make your own hairclips and other wedding accessories and jewelry at Toho Shoji.  The end result will be more beautiful, personal (and less expensive) than anything pre-made bought at a store.

Deco is a great way to personalize your store-bought items and give them your individual character and flavor. You’ll always have a great conversation piece your star-studded cellphone, your uniquely decorated iPhone or your new hand-made hairclip.  For my next deco project, I think I’ll choose something from my office desk —    like the mouse or mousepad—   to add a little sparkle to my workday!

——— Reported by Lisa Birzen

Toho Shoji (New York), Inc.
990 6th Ave. (bet. 36th & 37th Sts.), New York, NY 10018
TEL: 212-868 7465 /
Mon-Fri: 9am-7pm, Sat:10am-6pm, Sun:10am-5pm


The work of experienced deco designers is a great source of inspiration for us all.


Ms. Saito of Toho Shoji encourages my creativity with images of Japanese deco creations.


With Mickey Mouse safely in place, I carefully attach strips of sparkling stickers for color and variety.


Voila! My first decoden. (Can you tell I like flowers?)